Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Bill (Bill No. 44/2020)
Sir, this Bill seeks to consolidate and update our laws relating to guns, explosives, and weapons.
The regulation of guns, explosives, and weapons is important to the safety and security of Singaporeans, and our regulatory framework should be updated to account for changing technologies and threats.
I have four clarifications to raise on this Bill.
Definition of “store”
My first clarification is on the proposed definition of “store” and the 4 limbs of the definition.
The definition first sets out the first and second limbs followed by the phrase “and includes”, then the third and fourth limbs.
Can the Minister clarify if this should be interpreted to mean that the first and second limbs are broad definitions, and the third and fourth limbs are specific examples of the first and second limbs?
Can the Minister also clarify if the third and fourth limbs are examples and do not exhaustively set out situations where a gun or major part of a gun is deemed to be stored?
I seek this clarification because the third limb refers very specifically to being in possession of any explosive or explosive precursor for more than 24 hours. The fourth limb refers specifically to controlling or managing 12 guns or a major part of a gun.
These very specific numbers seem to provide an opening for someone to circumvent the law by possessing an explosive for only 23 hours or controlling only 11 guns.
Definition of “weapon”
My second point is on the definition of “weapon”.
The Bill defines weapon in the First Schedule, which comprises a detailed list such as arrows, knives and swords.
The First Schedule does not provide any exceptions for imitation, replica, or ornamental weapons.
By contrast, the definitions of gun or explosives in the Bill does provide exceptions for imitation guns and explosives.
The result appears to be an expansion of the law, with the proposed Act requiring licences for imitation, replica and ornamental weapons while existing laws do not. For instance, under section 13(6) of the existing Arms and Explosives Act, a licence is not required to possess a sword or dagger kept in a dwelling for ornamental purposes.
While clause 94 of the Bill deems ornamental or theatrical weapons as lawful purpose for possessing an offensive weapon under the Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons Act, it is not clear how imitation, replica, or ornamental weapons are treated under the new Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Act .
Can the Minister clarify if the term “weapon” is intended to cover imitation, replica, or ornamental weapons?
If so, can the Minister share how it intends to address the enforcement issues that may arise because of the over-inclusiveness?
Would the Ministry consider, for instance, issuing class licences for activities involving objects that fall within the definition of weapons but would not ordinarily be used to cause harm, such as imitation, replica, and ornamental weapons?
Publication of variation orders for class licences
My third point is about variation orders for class licences.
Section 57(1) of the Bill allows the Minister to vary a class licence by order in the Gazette.
However, the Gazette is not necessarily accessible to the layperson.
To propose to vary a class licence, the Minister is required to publish a notice on a website or in any other forms readily accessible to the public.
While the proposal to vary a class licence must be published, the order to vary itself is not subject to these requirements.
For consistency and transparency, will MHA ensure that the variation order itself be published in forms readily accessible to the public?
Enforcement powers of compliance officers
My fourth point is about the enforcement powers of compliance officers.
The Bill empowers the Licensing Officer to appoint compliance officers to assist the Licensing Officer in the exercise of its enforcement powers.
These compliance officers are private contractors, not public agents.
Despite not being public agents, compliance officers may exercise a range of enforcement powers under this Bill.
Can the Minister clarify how compliance officers will be supervised in the exercise of their powers? Will compliance officers be held to the same standards of accountability as public servants?
Sir, notwithstanding my clarifications, I stand in support of this Bill.